The Horse Meat Ethics

Not long ago, while having a discussion on lifestyles, I have come across this taboo, controversial topic. While some people consider eating horse meat unethical, others agree with it. But when and how do we know for sure that certain beliefs are morally incorrect, when other people think otherwise?

I, for one, reminisce about the times when my grandfather would wake up early in the morning, take the carriage drawn by horses to where the land was and start ploughing the soil. Therefore, for me eating horse meat is out of discussion.

However, most countries all around the world such as Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Senegal, China, Japan, Belgium, France, Iceland and Italy, to name a few, consider horse meat a delicacy. In the UK or the USA, it is forbidden by law to consume this type of meat, as horses have pet statuses (just like dogs). Moreover, religions, such as Judaism forbid horse meat consumption on the grounds of the horse not being a ruminant and not having cloven hooves. (Lebeau, 1983: 50) As far as the Muslim religion is concerned, the opinions are divided, as whether it is forbidden or not to consume horse meat, but generally speaking, Muslims do not eat horse meat, unless it comes from wild and not domesticated horses.

Every country has its own set of rules and from a PR perspective, I am fully aware of the importance of cultural awareness. People act in accordance to their own attitudes, beliefs and needs. Many people coming from different ethnic backgrounds and living in the USA or UK , are not particularly happy about not being able to consume horse meat and strongly protest against the law.

But what exactly does happiness entails? Aristotle considered that eudaimonia (the Greek term for happiness) comprises the function of reasoning, which explains why people choose to do what they do (which differentiates us from the plants and animals) by taking into account their virtues. (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2012: 11) Whether the personal or a country’s values come into discussion, it makes no difference, except for the case in which an individual’s personal or national virtues contrast with another one’s and implode. What becomes the centre of the matter, then? Can we affirm, for sure, that some people are barbarian for eating horse meat? What entitles us to do so?

In order to come up with a possible answer, let’s take a look at the Kazakhstan‘s history. As nomads, they not able to grow cereals or other animals and their only chance at survival was represented by the horse meat. Moreover, in their culture, consuming horse meat represents a sign of appreciation and respect towards this animal. So, their actions are influenced and at the same time governed by moral virtues such as courage and freedom, and also by the intellectual ones, such as the perception of perpetuating their cultural values. We can see that their state of well-being is influenced by consuming horse meat. Can the same state of well-being be achieved by some other European nations?

A nations’ well-being can be another one’s atrocity. In India, for example, they consider the cow to be sacred and they would never kill it, let alone eat it. Based on the evidence provided, do you think that it is ethical to judge other people for having the courage to defend the virtues they believe in, by consuming horse meat? Is it ethical to say that our values are superior over those of another nation’s that may strongly believe in and have them deeply rooted in its culture?

There are two approaches to be considered in order to offer a valid answer to these questions, and these are the utilitarianism or the contractarianism, which can be “summarized as benevolence” or “fairness”. (Martin, 2005: 475) John Stuart Mill, one of the most important theorists in the field of utilitarianism believed that “people desire happiness — the utilitarian end — and that the general happiness is “a good to the aggregate of all persons.” (1959: 81) (cited in Driver, 2009) But how can all the people in the world be happy at the same time, when we keep judging each other for choosing to defend ourselves, as being a part of a nation?

The precedent of judging people over their culture has already been set long time ago. The survival of the fittest culture is buried under the generic name of globalization, which is gaining momentum and leading to cultures being extinct. A relevant example would be the Americans forbidding people with roots in foreign cultures to exert their right of eating horse meat. Do you believe that, in time, the Kazakhs and all the other nationalities living in the USA will forget about their culture and embrace the American values? Which one do you think that it will prevail: the utilitarianism or the contractarianism? Will the Kazakhs be able to preserve their culture, as well, or will they lose their values and will need to embrace the American values as their own (provided they live in America)?



11 thoughts on “The Horse Meat Ethics

  1. isn’t eating horse meat like eating any other animal? any meat is basically the muscles or organs of an animal, no? I just don’t see how this would be different from eating a cow, a chicken, a turkey? why is eating those animals acceptable and a horse not? I think it all goes back to what we’ve been conditioned to think is acceptable to eat or not….maybe that’s why in some countries eating horses is ok while in others it’s absolutely appalling, just like eating your dog or cat…..But in the end isn’t it all about

    killing an animal to eat it??

    • What you are saying is true: we have been conditioned by our culture into adopting certain beliefs, like the one related to eating horse meat. This is, mainly, the reason why the Romanian population, for example, is at the opposite side of the Kazakhstan population, as they use horses for transportation reasons and in agriculture. However, the meat of a horse, is indeed the same as the meat that comes from any other animal, but would you really eat a dog or a cat? What is your answer on this one?

      Also what do you think about the future facing different populations migrating in the USA, for example: do you think that once the small cultures, with few representatives, will get sucked in by the international cultures, this will be the beginning of the domino effect? Will we have in a few years only a handful of cultures?

  2. I’ve never been confronted with the idea of eating horse, but as a utlitiarian I think nutritional facts play a big part in the morals of the decision. Not a simple decision, as utilitarianism leaves quite a lot to interpret depending on what you know and, uh, how good your logic is. 🙂 To put it rather simply, I would have to pose the following questions:
    – Are better uses for the animal hindered by its use for food?
    – Is the species of horse in my hypothetical meal endangered? Is it likely to near this status should consumption be encouraged?
    – Is horse meat more healthy than what I usually eat now?
    – Is it likely that live animals are mistreated in whatever process is necessary to get them on my plate?
    – Can I afford it?
    – Am I emotional in a way that I would at some point feel sorry for eating the horsefood, affecting my daily tasks?
    – Do I find it tasty?
    Now, this is me. I would say I listed these from most to least important, but a wrong answer to either would be a dealbreaker. And, of course, either of them can be expanded into an ethical dilemma of its own.

    The cultural part is a bit of a nagger (I won’t even get to where it’s more about religion than culture). I think it’s alright (in some cases necessary) to impose restrictions to someone from a different culture where they may not be active, but only if you can provide the toughest logical and ethical arguments. It seems to me that the only case animal rights activists can make in this situation – in relation to meat that is already allowed and always will be – is that of the penultimate question in my list above. Is it applicable on a larger scale? Say, a small community where general happiness would drop just by people being aware that other people around are eating pets?

    Hmm, now that I think of it, I wonder if there are studies on this, eating meat from an animal seen as a pet. I’m curious if there are any truly logical arguments to be brought up against it.

    • You have exposed some good points here. But how can one know whether it is logical or ethical to eat horse meat? As far as we are concerned, we believe that the contractarianism is the approach most people take into account in their everyday life, including when consuming horse meat, as they choose, as you just said, to pay more or less for their food and do not really care whether the animal has been mistreated before being killed. Also, the ones who are indeed happy to eat it, as it forms part of their culture, are also considering the contract approach. If you come to think of it, they do not think about the greater good (the whole population of the Earth), but their nation’s good. which represents only part of the whole.Taking into account these two different approaches, where people think about 1. the greater good and 2. their own personal happiness, can you still argue that it is ethical to do a certain something, as completely different values, attitudes and beliefs are involved, and why not even selfishness?

  3. I think each culture should eat as they wish so long as it is sustainable. The ecosystem will differ dependent on where you live, your diet should naturally reflect it. I think its ok to eat whatever you are comfortable with so long as the future of the species isn’t in jeopardy.

  4. Personally, horse meat doesn’t appeal to me, maybe because I have grown up in a country where horses are not bred for eating, but as pets and companions (just like cats and dogs). However, I certainly wouldn’t judge anyone else who chose to eat horse meat, or most other unendangered species – I don’t think it’s a question of ethics, just personal taste and cultural references.

  5. A very good article that got me thinking as personally I’ve never felt the need to ponder about it as Horsemeat has never been offered to me. However, looking at it from the outside I’ll say:
    -First to the question of freedom for foreign nationals living in the UK/USA to eat horsemeat; Their individual freedom ends where the other’s starts, in other words, while in the UK/USA, they need to adapt and respect the law in their host country. This doesn’t take away the fact that they could eat whatever they want once they visit a country that allows them to.
    -Second, It’s a question of perspectives: imagine a cannibal moving next door to you and wanting to have whatever moves for diner. I’ll let image all the horrible scenarios available; now would you say: Oh well if that what his “culture dictates him to do, so be it” Or would you say: “not under my watch, lets do something about it”? That’s how horse owners must feel.
    – People raise chickens and turkeys as pets and allows their children to bond and play with them, to collect the eggs each morning…. Once Christmas upon us, or guests coming for diner, they quite happily slaughter that poor chicken/turkey saying that’s the circle of the food chain…
    – Third, Horses are very expensive to upkeep, therefore I can’t see them being raised for the general consumption. Therefore, it’s unlikely they will be available to all anyway.
    Finally, my view is that it’s a question of perspective, affordability and law abiding.
    Thanks for getting me thinking, brilliant article

  6. I think the shock when I first heard people eat horse meat here in Europe is as much as Westerners heard people eat cats or dogs in certain Asian countries. I agree with Faye that it’s a cultural thing. Personally I won’t eat horse meat nor cats or dogs.

  7. In my view, some traditions of a country will always clash with another country’s views. In essence, I think someone’s happiness in regards to their culture can only be claimed when they are living in a country which accepts the practices being claimed for. In some arabic countries punishment for breaking the law is strictly physical (cutting a thief’s hand for instance). So if someone steals from a person who comes from that country and the act thakes place in UK, should they be allowed to cut off the thief’s hand? Just because that would be ethically acceptable in their country of origin, it does not mean its a right that they should exercise anywhere in the world they are. Same goes for eating horse meat, I think. If you are in your country of origin which allows you to consume horse meat, all good. If not, you need to live by the rules of the country you are in. Or, as they say, when in Rome, do what the Romans do.

  8. Interesting topic. It highlights the importance of cultural awareness – and cultural identity – and raises the question on whom does the burden of responsibility lie heaviest: host or guest?

    Regarding the specific example – in countries where the consumption of horsemeat is against the law – the legal issue takes precedence over cultural practices. In UK culture horses hold a unique position, having moved from beasts of burden to sporting and domestic animals and as ‘one of the family’ are no more acceptable on the menu than cats or dogs and are protected by law.

    As cultures vary so will their practices so, whether you are host or guest, it’s really a case of being culturally aware and having mutual respect for both laws and practices.

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